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Nov
18

A Miracle in Nature!

A note from Dr. Osterholm:

Many of you have been to Prairie Song Farm; others have seen pictures of the remarkable changes that have taken place over the past 7 years. But this weekend, we experienced firsthand an example of a miracle in nature.

In September 2004 we remeandered Brook Creek (our new name for this previously unnamed stream) back to its original location. For many hundreds of years Brook Creek ran from a large spring on the property approximately 1280 ft across the large valley floor before entering into to Duck Creek. The farmer who owned the land ditched the stream along a county road in 1950 and converted the old stream bed and adjacent valley into a corn field. I bought the property in late 2002 and begin plans for a major restoration. After we identified an aerial photo of the property from 1949, we were able to determine with some precision the location of the original stream. With critical input and efforts from Van Sterner and Bill Kalishek of the Iowa DNR and LuAnn Rolling and Mike Henderson of the Allamakee County NRCS office and expert excavation work from Jim Rausch we established the stream back to its original location and set about trying to reestablish a brook trout population. The previous owners reported that before the ditching the stream did contain brook trout.

August 2004
August 2004

You can see from the first picture (Aug 2004) taken while we were remaindering the stream (that’s Bill in the mud) that there were reasonable doubts by some that this old cornfield could ever be a brook trout stream again. But to get an idea of how the stream has matured in past 7 years into a classic tall grass prairie stream, see several pictures from recent months. Picture 1227 was taken this past July just below where Bill was standing in the construction picture. The large flies you see are actually tiny midges flying right in front of the lens of the camera. Picture 1453 was taken yesterday in the run just above where Bill was standing in the construction shot. Now Brook Creek has great flow, is loaded with aquatic insects (food), has lots of plant cover and maintains a very stable temperature profile (45.5-54.0 F) year round. It’s classic brook trout water!

1227

1227

1453

1453

Fast forward from 2004 to May 2009 when the native brook trout from South Pine Creek were first stocked in Brook Creek by the DNR as 3 inch fingerlings. Given that it takes a year before these young brook trout are sexually mature to reproduce, we wouldn’t have expected any evidence of natural reproduction until last fall (2010.) We didn’t notice any obvious redds in the fall of 2010 and we worried that the new brookies were not going to reproduce in Brook Creek.  But an electrofish survey this summer indeed showed the stocked brook trout were rapidly growing (and surviving quite well in the new stream) and did in fact spawn (brook trout reproduction which occurs in October or early November) in the fall of 2010 as evident by the presence of “young of year fish” (ones that hatched in the winter of 2011.)

1468
1468

Well, this year there is no doubt about the spawn! In photo 1468, which was taken yesterday there is a large redd that had 9 beautiful 12 inch brookies in their splendid fall red and yellow colors on it when we first saw it. While we scared the brookies upstream a bit, you can still see 5 of them in shot 1467 at the head of the redd (see the while fins which brookies have in their fall spawning.) They are at the top of the picture.

1467
1467

In short, we found numerous active redds in Brook Creek yesterday. A truly memorable experience. No doubt we’ll have a great new bunch of young brook trout later this winter as we don’t have to worry about a January thaw runoff flooding the stream and impacting the incubating eggs. Brook Creek has virtually no watershed, just the spring and recharge from the ground.

This is truly a miracle in nature…….an old cornfield that’s now producing the native cold water brook trout.

Thank you to Dr. Osterholm for this note!  Don’t miss an opportunity to spend a weekend at Prairie Song Farm, check our TCTU Banquet for details!